featured photo

The Kitchen

Brought to you by
Body Wrappers; New York Flash Review Sponsor
the New York manufacturer of fine dance apparel for women and girls. Click here to see a sample of our products and a list of web sites for purchasing.
With Body Wrappers it's always
performance at its best.
Go back to Flash Reviews

Go Home

Flash Review 3, 3-15: Nothing from Morris Means Something
"World" Powerful, "Saints" Not So Potent

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2001 Chris Dohse

Gertrude Stein once wrote, "Generally speaking anybody is more interesting doing nothing than doing something." She must have been thinking about Mark Morris. As seen Tuesday night at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, when he does nothing -- a short work from 1995 called "World Power" -- Morris is much more interesting than when he does a big something -- the NYC premiere of his ballet set to the Stein/Virgil Thomson opera "Four Saints in Three Acts." "Four Saints" gives his dancers lots of entrances and exits among a scene of celestial harmony full of scampering pleasantness, pantomime and vaguely folksy dances. But "World Power" is ultimately more satisfying.

It's hard to write about Morris, even to see him, through the river of gush that surrounds his twenty years of work. No other choreographer, except maybe Bill T. Jones, has caused as much critical commotion during the postmodern melee. I can't say I've been a big fan. His early works, like "Gloria," are stunning. But with 100 dances churned out in two decades, there are bound to be stinkers. Beware the price of fame.

"World Power" has an intimate feel. Its structures within structures and layering of Indonesian forms with vernacular gestures perfectly complement Lou Harrison's score for gamelan orchestra. The dance works as a pure visualization of the music, but with a humility that emphasizes Morris's gratitude to his composer. He dares a simplicity of composition that a younger choreographer trying to prove himself wouldn't dare, and allows his patterns and rhythms to reveal themselves in repetitive intricacy. Once the live chorus begins singing Mark Twain's indictment of Imperialism, the black-clad dancers become corpses.

"Four Saints" is a touchstone of the Twentieth Century avant-garde, first performed in an auspicious all-black staging in 1934. Morris goes for the whimsical for this production, reinforced by Maira Kalman's bold set of pinks and yellows. Stein is at her least cantankerous, writing what James Mellow calls "language in a state of beatitude." Morris's vocabulary relies on a classical deportment with fuzzy edges. Some essentially calm, almost hesitant, thrown-away quality that builds a sign language of recognizable shapes -- "sunshine," "house/building." John Heginbotham, as Saint Ignatius, and Michelle Yard, as Saint Teresa, are lovely, especially when they heat up around Act III. The opera is surprisingly singable.

The curtain opens too much and closes. The girls dance when the girls sing and this is annoying. The dancers are dressed by Elizabeth Kurtzman in cloying Americana, Huck Finn and Becky Thatcher go to Castile. There is no irony in paradise.

Go back to Flash Reviews
Go Home